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Fox Home Entertainment presents
In America (2003)

"You don't ask for help in America. You demand it. Trick or treat—you don't ask, you threaten."
- Christy (Sarah Bolger)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: March 14, 2004

Stars: Paddy Considine, Samantha Morton, Sarah Bolger, Emma Bolger, Djimon Hounsou
Director: Jim Sheridan

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality, drug references, brief violence and language
Run Time: 01h:45m:20s
Release Date: May 11, 2004
UPC: 024543116714
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." These words, enscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, have greeted countless immigrants to the shores of America. They are words of comfort, offering opportunity and potential for the life that awaits. These words may refer to those fleeing persecution and tyranny—the consequential remnants of corrupt governments. However, it should be interpreted to include those who are simply fleeing pain and looking for relief. In the case of one family, their pain is the death of a son. Natives of Ireland, they hope America will not only offer a new and prosperous life, but will assuage the wounds of grief.

Johnny (Paddy Considine) is a caring father who has not come to terms with the death of Frankie. His wife, Sarah (Samantha Morton), has also kept her true feelings inside. The shock of losing their child is too raw; the impact, too immediate. Their two young children, Ariel (Emma Bolger) and Christy (Sarah Bolger), are rambunctious and full of energy, excited to be bathed in the neon glow of Times Square. Christy is 10, and is mature beyond her years. She narrates this intimate tale—in many ways, it is truly her story. Sarah's almost parental concern for her younger sister (the two are sisters in real life) is palpable, creating an inseperable bond. When the family's weighed-down station wagon cruises between the spires of New York, it seems as if all their troubles are over.

Soon enough, reality sets in. The family must live in a run-down apartment, in a building pegged as a hangout for junkies. Money is scarce, and Johnny, who is an aspiring actor, searches day and night for a gig while driving a taxi cab to make ends meet. Sarah, a former schoolteacher, can only find work in a local ice cream shop. Regardless of the circumstances, the family makes do, customizing what little they have to accommodate life. Simple things are treasured: A fan; a half-working air conditioner (hauled through the streets of New York with gusto); a running shower on a hot day—things we may take for granted. They are surrounded by a cast of characters, including a mysterious, reclusive artist named Mateo. He is a violent, empassioned man with a hidden past, and the power of his spirit is engaged by this upright family. Life's events are explored, such as the unusual rituals of Halloween, a carnival, the movie E.T., pregnancy, and even the line between life and death, which becomes powerfully blurred in the film's emotional resolution.

When I saw In America in the theater, I was overwhelmed by its delicate subtlety. Spielberg, take note: Sappy sentimentalism is not needed to emotionally engage the audience. The film is loosely based on the later life of Jim Sheridan, who came to America in the early 1980s. Written with his two daughters, the Sheridans' firsthand connection with these events is wonderfully captured on celluloid. It is a deceptively simple tale, yet is enriched with deep meaning and emotion. Sheridan's camera is well placed, and his images are front and center. Combined with vérité shots filled with energy, footage from Christy's video camera is intercut to great effect, appropriately capturing events through the child's eyes. One of these events, a carnival game that threatens to take the family for every penny they have, is one of the most intense, nail-biting sequences in recent memory. No CGI and no explosions required. Well-edited and peppered with a rousing Americana soundtrack, this film is pure, refreshing cinema.

Sheridan's cast of talented actors fleshes out the already first-rate script. Paddy Considine's Johnny is the sure-headed father, with the right level of vulnerability and fear, making his character quite believable. Samantha Morton delivers a fantastic portrayal of his wife, who must also confront the loss of Frankie when she least expects it. The real standout performances of the film come from the two sisters, Emma and Sarah Bolger: Sarah's innate parental instincts shine through wonderfully, and the camaraderie between these two real-life sisters enhances the on-screen relationship all the more. These are amazing, totally believable performances. Finally, Djimon Hounsou delivers an emotive, intense portrayal as the tortured artist Mateo. He wonderfully contrasts his inner rage with a delicate side that warms up to this hard working, Irish family. The Oscar nods that were delivered to this cast were well deserved.

This is certainly one of the best films of 2003, yet sadly, in general, overlooked by the Academy. It is a return to what cinema can be—entertaining, emotionally involving, and most of all, subtle. When I see these richly spirited, yet financially poor people cherish simple pleasures, I am affected. Beyond the cliché of reminding me of how I have been blessed with the basic amenities of a comfortable life, I was reminded that a fulfilling life does not necessarily mean the presence of these amenities; it is the connection between family members that provides the strength to endure tragedy. In America simply puts these things in perspective.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Fox offers the film in both 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and cropped, 1.33:1 full-screen transfers, located on opposite sides of the disc. Do I really need to tell you which one to watch? The preferred widescreen presentation is virtually flawless. Fox has delivered an amazing image with stunning detail, bold colors, solid blacks, and next to no grain. This is one of the cleanest images I have seen in some time. The full-screen presentation loses not only picture information but some resolution. Stick with the OAR.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The English Dolby 5.1 track is wonderfully spacious, utilizing the surrounds more frequently than I expected for a dialogue-driven drama. One sequence that stands out is when the family is entering New York, and we hear the kinetic sounds of the city. Sounds shift smoothly from one channel to another, and when they enter the city, the music kicks into high gear, fully enveloping the listener. An impressive mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
9 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Jim Sheridan
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Fox has provided a decent collection of extras for an independent film. First is a feature-length audio commentary by director Jim Sheridan. His comments begin unconventionally with "This is the voice of Jim Sheridan, the ego-maniac who wrote, directed, and produced a film about himself." His wit is evident throughout his comments, which primarily cover his personal experiences that are captured in the film, along with casting, shooting locations and more. It's a great track.

The disc also contains 10 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Sheridan. These are short bits or alternate scenes that were clearly cut or changed for good reason, but are still interesting. Scenes include "Johnny Fixes Fuse Box," "Autumn and the Star-Spangled Banner," "That's Frankie," "Boots," "Are There Birds in Africa?," "I Shall Be Redeemed," "The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon," "We're All the Same," "Frank Attacks Johnny," and "The Original Ending." This alternate ending is a more descriptive coda than necessary. All of the scenes are presented in nonanamorphic widescreen and 2.0 stereo, and are of below-average video quality.

Finally, we have The Making of In America (05m:02s). This is pretty average EPK fare, containing rushed interview bits with various cast and crew members, intercut with clips from the film. Nothing special or in-depth, but nice to have.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Jim Sheridan's film is a gem that proves subtle cinema can present a powerhouse of emotion. Stellar performances and strong visuals help make the already intimate story come to life. Sheridan's personal connection to this material is evident. Fox's effort is very good, combining some decent extras with topnotch audio/visual quality. An essential title for every DVD collection In America.


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